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What Is Celiac vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition that is often confused for Celiac, an autoimmune disease, as they have many of the same symptoms. The one major differentiating factor between these two conditions is the official Celiac diagnosis.

Individuals with Celiac disease are diagnosed with multiple tests and are proven to have a detrimental reaction to a protein found in many grains including rye, barley and wheat. Meaning, when someone with Celiac disease ingests gluten, their body’s immune system doesn’t recognize the foreign substance and their antibodies begin to attack their intestinal lining. This damages the villi along the intestinal wall, which absorb essential nutrients. If not properly diagnosed or treated, Celiac disease can cause mild-to-severe discomfort and potentially lead to malnutrition. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100 people in the United States have Celiac disease.

Similarly, people who have NCGS experience many of the same intestinal symptoms, including irritation and discomfort in result to the consumption of gluten however tests for celiac disease are normal. While there is much ongoing research surrounding NCGS, there is currently no identified cause. In fact, the existence of NCGS is still a highly debated topic in the medical research field. While there is no research proving these two conditions are related, often the best treatment for NCGS and Celiac is to avoid gluten all together.

What Causes Celiac vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Unfortunately, there is no known cause of Celiac or NCGS. While there is not a physical or environmental trigger, it is believed that Celiac is a genetic autoimmune disease, while NCGS is not. Some common Celiac risk factors include:

  • Early exposure to gluten (younger than 3 months old)
  • Autoimmune Diseases, including Type 1 Diabetes or Thyroid Disease
  • Other Genetic Disorders, such as Down Syndrome or Turner Syndrome

It is theorized that Celiac can be triggered because of a major life event, stress, pregnancy or surgery, if the person is already genetically predisposed. There is currently no conclusive evidence for a cause of NCGS.

What are the Symptoms of Celiac vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

Since Celiac symptoms can present themselves in different forms and severities, it’s important to check for a diagnosis to avoid any serious, long-term health complications. Some symptoms people with Celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience include:

  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Stuffy nose (rhinitis)

How is Celiac vs. Gluten Sensitivity Diagnosed?

People who experience the symptoms of gluten intolerance should be tested to receive an official Celiac diagnosis. To diagnose the condition, a doctor may recommend a blood test or biopsy of their small intestine. For the blood test to be accurate, the patient would need to eating gluten.

How is Celiac vs. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity Treated?

Both Celiac and NCGS are treated the same, through avoidance. In addition to self-care and adhering to a strict gluten-free diet, people with diagnosed Celiac may be recommended to take dietary supplements and vitamins. A registered dietitian can give helpful advice to guide diet changes.